Reading the Megilla before Purim When Purim Falls on Sunday

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Translated by David Silverberg





            On a year when Purim falls on Sunday, such that Megilla reading should take place on Motza'ei Shabbat, may someone who cannot read at nighttime begin the reading already on Shabbat day?  (This question was posed as a practical matter by on-duty IDF soldiers who embarked on a military operation at night and could read only earlier, before nightfall.)




            This question consists of two different issues.  Firstly, does Halakha in general permit reading the Megilla during the day of the thirteenth of Adar, before nightfall of the fourteenth?  And secondly, assuming we would generally permit reading before the onset of the fourteenth of Adar, would this leniency apply when the thirteenth falls on Shabbat?



            Let us begin with the first issue, as to whether in general we would permit one to read the Megilla during the day of the thirteenth.  This question itself divides into two separate issues: reading the Megilla anytime during the day of the thirteenth, and reading late in the afternoon, after pelag ha-mincha.  The first mishna of Masekhet Megilla states:



"The Megilla is read on either the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth, no earlier and no later.  Cities surrounded by a wall from the days of Yehoshua Bin Nun read on the fifteenth; villages and large cities read on the fourteenth, only the villages move [the reading] back, to the market day."



A fundamental question arises concerning the early reading of the villagers.  On the one hand, one might claim that the time for Megilla reading begins on the eleventh of Adar (as explicitly stated in the Yerushalmi – 1:1 – which goes even further and allows reading the Megilla from the beginning of Adar), only the fourteenth is the preferred time for reading.  If so, then a person who cannot read on the fourteenth would read the Megilla earlier.  Alternatively, perhaps the only time for Megilla reading is on Purim itself, but Chazal enacted an extraordinary provision allowing the villagers to read the Megilla earlier, so that they do not forget this mitzva. 



This question will yield practical ramifications in a situation where one must go on a trip and will not have access to a Megilla on the fourteenth.  May he read the Megilla before his departure, earlier than the fourteenth?  If we maintain that the time for Megilla reading essentially begins already on the eleventh, he may.  If, however, the early reading of the villagers constitutes a special provision, and fundamentally the only acceptable time for Megilla reading occurs on the fourteenth (or fifteenth for walled cities), then presumably once this provision became inapplicable, under no circumstances may one read the Megilla earlier than the fourteenth.



            The Tur writes (O.C. 688),



"They sent [a Halakhic ruling] from the academy: When one leaves in a caravan or embarks on a sea voyage, he reads on the fourteenth, and he must take any measure he can to read it on the fourteenth.  If he cannot do so, he reads it on the eleventh, twelfth or thirteenth… Rav Amram Gaon wrote this, as well, and he [also] wrote that one recites a berakha before and after [the reading] when he reads it on the eleventh or later.  The Ba'al Halakhot wrote that nowadays one may not read it anytime other than the fourteenth – even one who leaves with a caravan.  It is preferable for one [in such a situation] to read it without a berakha."  (See Har Tzvi 125, s.v. ve-acharei ha-iyun.)



The Shulchan Arukh writes [O.C. 688:7],



"One who embarks on a sea voyage or leaves with a caravan and cannot find a Megilla to bring with him should read it on the thirteenth, twelfth or eleventh without a berakha." 



Clearly, then, on the thirteenth one may read the Megilla without a berakha.



            Let us now address the question of whether one may read the Megilla with a berakha after pelag ha-mincha on the thirteenth, in that we might consider this time period the beginning of the fourteenth. 



The Beit Yosef writes (687),



"In the Orchot Chayim it is written in the name of Ra'avad: 'There is a practice to read it while still daytime on the eve of the fourteenth in order to make it easier for those under duress [due to the fast] and pregnant women, so that they would not have to fast for too long.'" 



Later (692), the Beit Yosef writes:



"The Terumat Ha-deshen writes: 'One who is somewhat under duress and cannot go to the synagogue for Megilla reading and must wait until after the congregation reads, and it is difficult for him to remain fasting for so long, may hear the reading while still daytime after the mincha prayer, from pelag ha-mincha onward, meaning, and hour and a quarter before nightfall.'"



The Shulchan Arukh (692:4) rules accordingly:


"Someone who is somewhat under duress and cannot go to the synagogue and must wait until after the congregation reads, and it is difficult for him to remain fasting for so long, may hear Megilla reading while still daytime from pelag ha-mincha onward." 


Seemingly, this leniency should apply in our case, as well, except for the fact that the Shulchan Arukh deals with somebody who cannot fast and may therefore read the Megilla earlier.  Here, we deal not with a problem concerning the fast, but rather a nighttime operation which does not allow for reading after nightfall.  In any event, the Peri Chadash strongly rejects this ruling and writes (beginning of 687):



"The Beit Yosef wrote in the name of the Orchot Chayim that there was a practice to read it while still daytime on the evening of the fourteenth… If they indeed had such a practice, THEY NEVER FULFILLED THE MITZVA OF THE NIGHTTIME MEGILLA READING, AND IT IS PROPER TO ELIMINATE THIS EVIL PRACTICE and to read it in its entirety only after the time of nightfall.  IF PEOPLE READ EARLIER, THEY DO NOT FULFILL THEIR OBLIGATION and must repeat it with its berakhot."



Before we look at the Peri Chadash's comments in siman 692, let us first cite the following passage from the Terumat Ha-deshen (109):



"It would appear that one may hear the reading and thereby fulfill his obligation while still daytime, after the arvit service, from pelag ha-mincha onward, meaning, an hour and a quarter before nightfall.  For Rabbenu Tam ruled in the beginning of Berakhot that we maintain that we consider it nighttime from that point with respect to the recitation of shema.  And although there [regarding shema] the Torah requires the time when people sleep, and this time [before nightfall] is not a time when people sleep, nevertheless one fulfills the obligation to recite shema because it is considered nighttime.  All the more so regarding Megilla reading, when it is not necessary to consider this time nighttime in order for the reading to have been performed in its time, on the fourteenth.  And even though several leading authorities disagree with Rabbenu Tam there in the beginning of Berakhot, the Mordekhai wrote in the name of the Ravya that common practice follows the view of Rabbenu Tam, and one who is stringent in accordance with the view of the other scholars is called a 'hedyot' [fool] unless he has accustomed himself to other forms of stringency."



It turns out that the Terumat Ha-deshen bases his lenient position on two factors: Rabbenu Tam's ruling, and the assumption that Megilla reading need not take place specifically at nighttime.  The Peri Chadash (end of siman 692) responds to both points:



"This ruling is that of the Terumat Ha-deshen who derived this from that which Tosefot write in the beginning of Berakhot in the name of Rabbenu Tam… But his comments are refuted in light of the majority of authorities who disagree with him [Rabbenu Tam], and the true ruling is that the time for reciting shema begins at nightfall… All the more so regarding [the nighttime reading of the] Megilla, which we extract from the verse, 'by night, and I have no respite' (Tehillim 22:3)."



The Peri Chadash thus challenges both bases upon which the Terumat Ha-deshen builds his position.  Firstly, he argues that Halakha does not follow the view of Rabbenu Tam vis-a-vi shema, and secondly, the Gemara (Megilla 4a) derives the obligation to read the Megilla on the night of Purim from a verse which explicitly mentions "night."  The Peri Chadash concludes,



"It is therefore clear as day that one should not rely on this ruling and should read the Megilla only from the time of nightfall.  Whoever reads beforehand accomplishes nothing and recites berakhot le-vatala [wasted berakhot]."



            Whereas the Peri Chadash disputes the first basis of the Terumat Ha-deshen's position on the grounds of a Halakhic ruling, his point concerning the Gemara in Masekhet Megilla appears to hinge on a debate among the Rishonim.  In their comments to that Gemara, the Rishonim argue as to whether the obligation of the nighttime Megilla reading resembles the obligation by day (Rashba and Ritva), or if the primary reading is by day (Tosefot s.v. chayav).  The Noda Bi-Yehuda (O.C. end of 41) explains that the obligation of the daytime reading emerges from divrei kabala (the Tanakh), from the verse "and these days are mentioned and observed" – implying an obligation to read specifically on "these days," and not at nighttime.  The nighttime reading was instituted later, by Chazal, and the Megilla makes no reference to it whatsoever.  (According to the Noda Bi-Yehuda, we should consider the verse from Tehillim cited by the Gemara as the origin of the nighttime obligation as only an "asmakhta" – a subtle allusion, rather than an actual source.  See also Yabia Omer 1:43 and Har Tzvi 120.)



            In any event, given that the Ra'avad (in his critique to the Ba'al Ha-ma'or, 3a in the Rif) records this practice as having been followed by the scholars of Narbonne, and that it is mentioned as well by the Orchot Chayim (Hilkhot Megilla U-Purim, 4), Kolbo (45) and Meiri (2a), Halakha accepts this position.  However, the authorities all base this ruling upon the halakha mentioned by the Yerushalmi that one who embarks on a journey may read on the thirteenth.  Regarding such a case, the Shulchan Arukh (ibid.) rules that one reads without a berakha.  Seemingly, then, the same should apply in our case.  Given, however, that none of the aforementioned Rishonim mention that when reading before nightfall one does not recite a berakha (though perhaps they maintain that even when one reads several days earlier he may recite a berakha), and the Beit Yosef makes no such comment to this effect when he cites the Orchot Chayim (though he undoubtedly relies on the Terumat Ha-deshen's view, which he cites later), it would seem that one may recite a berakha.  Perhaps the poskim felt that on the one hand we can rely on the Yerushalmi's ruling permitting one to read the Megilla on the thirteenth, but on the other hand, since the person in our case essentially conducts the reading on the fourteenth, only a bit early, rather than on the thirteenth, he may recite the berakha.



            Indeed, the Beiur Halakha writes (692:4):



"Now the Peri Chadash objected to the Terumat Ha-deshen's ruling… But the Beit Yosef indeed cites from the Orchot Chayim in the name of the Ra'avad that the practice is to read a little earlier than nightfall… I similarly found this [recorded] in the Eshkol and Meiri… And although the Peri Chadash strongly rejected this practice, nevertheless, several Acharonim defended this practice which several Rishonim record, and they maintain that although one who is stringent in this regard is deserving of blessing, nevertheless, regarding an ill patient or someone experiencing discomfort who acts leniently and reads while still daytime – he has on whom to rely."



He adds,






This is indeed the ruling of the Yabia Omer, and the rabbis of Yerushalayim issued this ruling when the city was besieged during the War of Independence.



            It turns out, then, that when the thirteenth of Adar falls on a weekday, an individual and even an entire congregation can read the Megilla already from pelag ha-mincha when faced with extenuating circumstances.



            Does this leniency apply when the thirteenth of Adar falls on Shabbat?



            Reading the Megilla on Shabbat in such a case involves two potential problems: the attempt to fulfill the obligation of Megilla reading, which takes effect on Motza'ei Shabbat, while it is still Shabbat, and the rabbinic injunction against reading the Megilla on Shabbat so as to avoid the risk of mistakenly carrying the Megilla through a public domain.



            The Magen Avraham (692:6) addresses both issues.  Regarding the general halakha allowing the reading of the Megilla from pelag ha-mincha, he writes,



"It appears to me that even on Shabbat one may do so if he faces some dire circumstance, as written in siman 293 [that when the need arises, one may recite arvit for Motza'ei Shabbat while still Shabbat, after pelag ha-mincha, and thus the same would apply to Megilla reading].  However, we should forbid this because we do not read the Megilla on Shabbat." 



Meaning, the prohibition against performing melakha on Shabbat remains until nightfall even if one recited arvit, and therefore the rabbinic enactment forbidding reading the Megilla on Shabbat likewise remains in force. 



The Chatam Sofer, however, in his responsa (195), questions the Magen Avraham's conclusion:



"However, it appears from what the Magen Avraham wrote that he forbids [reading] even on the thirteenth [that falls] on Shabbat.  But it requires some explanation from where he knew that Rava's concern [of carrying a Megilla on Shabbat] applies here, where not everyone is preoccupied [with the mitzva], only those who are ill or under extenuating circumstances.  For it is for this very reason that they did not forbid circumcision [on Shabbat] according to the Ran.  [Meaning, Chazal did not enact a prohibition against performing berit mila on Shabbat out of concern that one might carry, since this concern arises only regarding the mohel, and others can remind him not to carry.  When it comes to Megilla, however, everyone is preoccupied with the Megilla, and Chazal therefore forbade reading it on Shabbat.]  And regarding the concern of Rav Yosef, that the poor desperately look forward to Megilla reading [when they receive charity], this does not apply to moving it ahead just slightly to after pelag ha-mincha."



            One option arises from the comments of the Kaf Ha-chayim (692:33), who writes that when Purim falls on Erev Shabbat and people could not read the Megilla, the Peri Megadim permits reading it during bein ha-shemashot (between sundown and nightfall).  He explains that Shabbat prohibitions decreed by Chazal do not apply bein ha-shemashot when the performance of a mitzva is at stake, and this should certainly apply to Megilla reading, which involves a mitzva mentioned in Tanakh.  Therefore, in our case, too, one can read the Megilla on Motza'ei Shabbat after sundown, when bein ha-shemashot begins, since rabbinic Shabbat prohibitions do not apply bein ha-shemashot if they would prevent the performance of a mitzva.  As for carrying the Megilla, the Peri Chadash forbids doing so on Shabbat, but other Acharonim dispute his position and refute his arguments (see Mishna Berura, end of 688:18). Certainly, then, we should permit carrying the Megilla during bein ha-shemashot.